Whether you live in the suburbs or smack dab in Central Austin, or you are a tourist visiting Austin with your family, the downtown area has many options for family fun. While downtown Austin is known for its nightlife, there are a surprising number of family-friendly activities to do with kids of all ages.
The relative ease of navigating the 2ND Street District and beyond makes this area a 365 Family staff favorite. With easy access from either direction on Mopac or I-35, getting to this area outside of peak travel times is less stressful than navigating around other parts of downtown Austin. The fact that one can park and walk to all of these activities in and around the 2ND Street District makes this a top spot for spending a day with the family in downtown Austin.
365 Family Recommended Day in Austin:
Start at Seaholm Power Plant
This mixed-use development once served as the main power supply for the city of Austin. Built in the 1950’s, it long sat dormant but still stands as an iconic Austin landmark building on the north shore of Lady Bird Lake. Recent development over the past several years includes restaurants, a Trader Joe’s, and residences. Seaholm Power Plant offers a unique architectural structure that intrigues the youngest to oldest in groups. The small plaza in front of Trader Joe’s is perfect for small kids to run around. Many families bring balls and scooters for the kids as the lack of cars makes this an appealing spot to let the kids burn off some energy.
Parking is available in the Seaholm Power Plant garage (211 Walter Seaholm Drive). The cost is $3 for 30 minutes with a maximum of $30. Pay with a credit card at entry. Trader Joe’s validates with the same credit card for one hour of parking. This is our favorite parking spot since a stop at Trader Joe’s to pick up dinner items, snacks and drinks for the drive home is incredibly convenient.
Tip: Check out the Art in Public Places installment on the staircase heading to street level from the parking garage.
Approximate time: 30 minutes
Next stop: Central Library
To walk from Seaholm Power Plant, cross West Avenue at 2nd Street and head into the main entrance at 710 W. Cesar Chavez Street.
Austin’s Central Library made Time Magazine’s list of Top 100 Places to Visit in 2018, and for a good reason! The library has easily become one of our favorite places to be in Austin. With a rooftop butterfly garden offering nice views of Austin, over 500,000 books, an art gallery space, reading and studying nooks throughout, and more, one can easily spend the better part of a day at the Central Library.
The library is spread out on 6 floors, accessible by staircase or elevator. We like to make our way up to each level by the stairs to get some cardio in while checking out the different spaces and unique attributes on each level. There’s a special children’s area with games, a technology library, and many events and story-times happening most days of the week.
If all of the walking around the 200,000 square foot building leaves you feeling a bit peckish, head to the Cookbook Cafe & Bar for a full meal or light snack. There’s both indoor and outdoor seating available.
Be sure to check out the special art exhibit commemorating the life and work of beloved Austin musician and artist Daniel Johnston. The collection will run through March 31, 2020.
Tip: Looking for a unique Austin gift? Visit the gift store located next to Cookbook Cafe & Bar on the first floor.
Parking: If you choose to park at Central Library, parking is available at the garage located on West Avenue. The first hour is free, maximum at $30 for 12 hours.
Approximate time: 1-2 hours
Next stop: Walk along Shoal Creek Trail and Butterfly Bridge to 2ND Street
The Shoal Creek Trail connects directly outside of the Central Library. Vibrant plants and flowers along the trail make the scene the perfect backdrop for Instagram-worthy photos. This is of particular interest to any families with teenagers who balk at the idea of a family outing.
Butterfly Bridge crosses over Shoal Creek and brings direct access to 2ND Street District.
Approximate time: 10-15 minutes (depending on how many photos you stop to take)
Next stop: 2ND Street District
Austin’s 2ND Street District offers a wide variety of shopping and dining options, perfect for all ages. As a family that has children ages 21, 13, and 7 years old, this street and its offerings are great for all ages.
Locally-owned Toy Joy, in business now for 33 years, offers a wide variety of “nerd-culture” toys and trinkets. This favorite Austin toy store will bring out the whimsical side of both kids and adults. The merchandise rotates often, encouraging frequent visits to see what new unique toys will be in stock at each visit.
The older kids in the crowd may enjoy shopping at Austin Rocks or any of the other boutique stores located on 2nd Street.
If you are feeling a bit tired at this point in the journey, a strong cup of coffee from Jo’s Coffee or Austin Java will fix you right up. For those warmer summer months in Austin, pop into Yummi Joy for some refreshing ice cream. Whatever your food preference may be, there are plenty of restaurants, including Italian, BBQ, Mexican, Asian and more.
Approximate time: 1-3 hours
If nap time is calling and you want to end your downtown excursion at this point, cross over to the other side of 2nd Street to check out the stores that you missed coming down. Alternatively, you can turn right onto either Guadalupe Street or Lavaca Street to head back via Cesar Chavez. While this route tends to be a bit busier, you can check out Austin City Hall for more photo taking opportunities.
Still have enough energy to continue your excursion in downtown Austin?
Last stop: Capital Cruises
Capital Cruises is about a half mile walk (10 minutes) from the 2ND Street District. They are located lakeside at the Hyatt Regency Austin, just across the 1st Street Bridge.
Rent a canoe, kayak, or paddleboat, or you can reserve a spot on one of their cruises. If you time your visit right, you can take a bat-excursion to see the bats emerge from under the Congress Avenue Bridge from March through October.